#3IYT: Dalton's history in carpet
The multi-billion dollar industry began with the entrepreneurship of a 15-year-old girl.
In 1895 fifteen-year-old Catherine Evans (later Catherine Evans Whitener) revived a colonial practice by hand tufting a bedspread. She saw a bedspread her cousin had made using a technique called candle wicking. She fell in love with the process and the design and decided to make her own.
"She loved the design so much and had actually created a few quilts and had showed them to people and people loved them and people,” explained Deanna Mathis. “It grew to a point that she actually started employing other young adults in the area and do bedspreads out of her homes. There weren't a lot of opportunities for young girls to work in the area at that time so she was giving the opportunity for gainful employment."
Family and neighbors were recruited to satisfy a rapidly growing demand for chenille bedspreads and, later, toilet covers, bath mats, robes, and throw rugs. Haulers carried the tufting materials into the surrounding countryside, where housewives tufted the items for extra money. Upon the return of the finished items, the spread houses in Dalton processed the goods for shipment to larger markets.
By 1917, the stretch of U.S. Highway 41 through Dalton became known as Peacock Alley, as vacationers saw the bright designs hanging on clotheslines and wanted to purchase some for themselves.
"It was a craze that spread across the country,” says Mathis. “And then someone discovered that those tufting techniques...someone figured out that they could make those machines bigger and make full-scale tufting machines like we use today to make wall to wall carpets and flooring. That essentially founded the billion dollar industry that we have here today."
The lure of money and the adaptation of sewing machines to multiple production stitching drew men into the textile industry, and the area's economy survived the Great Depression.
As Interstate 75 became the choice for most commuters, many manufacturers moved their headquarters there to remain in the public eye. Business was booming in the carpet industry until recession forced many of those companies to close or consolidate.
"The flooring industry is the backbone of this community and we are so thankful for all that it means to greater Dalton,” says Believe Greater Dalton’s, Allyson Coker. “We did learn back in 2008 that it is not recession proof. So one of the goals of our economic development strategy is diversification."
That strategy got a huge boost in the arm as Hanwah Q Cells announced in May that it would make Dalton their first U.S. location. The new solar panel plant will bring a $150 million dollar investment to the area as well as 525 new jobs over the next three years.
"We've got young people that were born and raised here moving back home,” says Coker. “They want to be a part of what's happening here. I think it goes back to the roots of what you've already heard about the origins of our industry and what Dalton means to everyone here locally."